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China’s Internet Crackdown – almost everything is “state secret”

Posted by Author on May 28, 2010

Phelim Kine, The Forbes, 05.27.10 –

Tighten the screws. That’s the Chinese government’s response to growing corporate discontent with China’s pervasive electronic censorship and surveillance system. Barely a month since Google pulled the plug on its China-based search engine, the Chinese government started demanding deeper corporate complicity with China’s security agencies.

On April 29 the Chinese government moved to impose a wider role for Internet and telecom firms in the country’s pervasive censorship and surveillance apparatus when China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee approved an amendment to the revised draft Law of Guarding State Secrets, which will require Internet and telecom network operators to proactively monitor their networks for any content thatfalls within the definition of “state secrets.”

The problem is, almost anything can fall into that basket, and it is entirely at the whim of censoring officials what does. Although the draft revised law must be approved at the annual meeting of China’s legislature, it constitutes a palpable threat to Internet and telecom companies already leery of requirements to deepen their links with China’s security agencies.

The Chinese government has long classified state secrets ex­tremely broadly, including information that is related to “economic and social development,” as well as a catch-all “other matters” category. National and local officials decide whether published materials are a state secret, and those determinations cannot be legally challenged. The amendment explicitly requires Internet and telecom operators to “cooperate with public security organs, state security agencies [and] prosecutors” on suspected cases of state secrets transmission and to cease that transmission, record it as evidence and then delete it from the public domain.

The amendment spotlights fresh concerns about the ethical obligations of China’s remaining foreign Internet search engine operators, including Yahoo  ( YHOO  –  news  –  people ) and Microsoft  ( MSFT  –  news  –  people ). Unlike Google  ( GOOG  –  news  –  people ), which ended its five years of complicity with Chinese censors in March 2010, those two firms continue to bend to official dictates to censor any searches on topics the Chinese government categorizes as “sensitive.” Those topics range from information about the June 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, Tibetan independence and the banned Falun Gong spiritual group to Chinese-language searches about China’s President Hu Jintao. …… (more details from The Forbes)

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